Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Cognitive Load Theory and Computer Science Education John Sweller,
Cognitive Load Theory and Computer Science Education
John Sweller, Emeritus Faculty, University of New South Wales
Cognitive load theory uses our knowledge of human cognitive architecture to devise instructional procedures, most of which are directly relevant to computer science education. There are several basic aspects of human cognition that are critical to instructional design. First, based on evolutionary educational psychology, cognitive load theory assumes that most topics taught in educational and training institutions are ones that we have not specifically evolved to learn. Such topics require biologically secondary knowledge rather than the biologically primary knowledge that we have evolved to acquire. Second, these instructionally relevant topics require learners to acquire domain-specific rather than generic cognitive skills. Third, while generic cognitive knowledge does not require explicit instruction because we have evolved to acquire it, domain-specific concepts and skills that provide the content of educational syllabi, do require explicit instruction. These three factors interact with the well-known capacity and duration constraints of working memory and the unlimited capacity and duration characteristics of long-term memory to delineate a cognitive architecture relevant to instructional design. The working memory limits do not apply to biologically primary, generic knowledge acquired without explicit instruction but do apply to the biologically secondary, domain-specific knowledge that requires explicit instruction and that is relevant to computer science education. Human cognition when dealing with such knowledge constitutes a natural information processing system that has evolved to mimic the architecture of biological evolution. Cognitive load theory uses this architecture to generate a large range of instructional effects concerned with procedures for reducing extraneous working memory load in order to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge in long-term memory. This talk reviews the theory and indicates the instructional implications relevant to computer education.